Cook, D. A. (2016). Twelve tips for getting your manuscript published. Medical Teacher, 38(1), 41–50.
I went through this article to present it for discussion at our departmental journal club meeting last week. It’s a useful review paper for anyone interested in academic publishing, especially novice authors who may not have much experience preparing manuscripts for submission.
Getting the manuscript ready
1. Plan early to get it out the door. Write regularly – even if it’s for shorter periods – because it’s hard to find large blocks of time, which means that you don’t write very often. Set clear, concrete goals because otherwise you end up doing lots of reading and editing but don’t put words on the page. Refine in stages, perhaps initially using a rough outline where the argument can be presented and seen all at once, before expanding points into sentences, then paragraphs, and finally into sections.
2. Address authorship and writing group expectations up front. Deciding the order and contributions of each author is important to do early on in the process. See the ICMJE guidelines on defining the role of authors. The main point to take away is that, in order to be listed as an author, an intellectual contribution to the paper (which is different to the project) is necessary.
3. Maintain control of the writing. There needs to be one person who drives the process and ensures that editing of the manuscript is controlled. The author suggests having one master document that only they have access to, with other authors submitting changes on separate documents. This might be less important with the version control and change tracking that’s built into current collaborative writing platforms e.g. Google Docs.
4. Ensure complete reporting. Find out what reporting guidelines exist for your specific type of study design e.g. SR, RCT, qualitative research, etc. Note that the title can be thought of as part of the reporting something to the reader; t’s the one thing that every reader will actually read. The introduction provides context, a conceptual framework, literature review, problem statement and then the question or aim. The Discussion should be focused and informative, leaving out what is not really necessary. It might follow this structure: summary, limitations, integration with prior work, implications for practice or research.
5. Use electronic reference management software. You can do this manually but, after the initial setup of your resource library, using management software is far more efficient. There are two additional reasons to use software; citations can be reformatted into different styles, new citations can be inserted without having to renumber everything else. Don’t capture sources into your library by hand as this can introduce errors; use the software to import from PubMed and journals directly. Mendeley is popular, as is Endnote. I use Zotero, which is an excellent open source programme.
6. Polish carefully before you submit. Make sure that there are as few spelling, grammatical, typographical, punctuation and style errors as possible in the manuscript before you submit. It’s important to be consistent in your editing across all of the above e.g. UK vs US English, different heading styles for first level headings, inconsistent citation formatting, etc. will all suggest to the Editor that you’re not paying attention to the small things.
7. Select the right journal. Who will be reading the journal? There’s no point aiming for a high impact journal if their audience won’t be interested in your work. Review the journal aim and scope, instructions for authors, or even contact the Editor and ask if they think that your topic and question would be of interest to the journal’s audience. Try to evaluate your own work objectively, possibly by comparing it to a few papers from the journal you’re aiming for, and ask if it would fit alongside those articles. All metrics used to evaluate the “quality” of a journal are flawed.
8. Follow journal instructions precisely. Editors may desk reject (i.e. not even send out for review) articles where authors have disregarded the instructions. There are often a variety of other items that need to accompany the article e.g. cover letter (topic, aim, implications), disclosures, conflict of interest statements, authorship, possible reviewers, funding, and ethics clearance. It can take surprisingly long to gather this additional information.
When you are rejected (and you will be rejected)
9. Get it back out the door quickly. There’s no value in delaying it because your feelings are hurt. Try to remember that everyone gets rejected. It may be helpful to have a list of other journals you will submit to if the article is rejected. It is not helpful to argue with the Editor.
10. Take seriously all reviewer and editor suggestions. Even though you are obviously not required to use the feedback, you should at least pay it some attention. The author suggests a rubric for deciding what comments to pay attention to: essential, high-yield, easy and useful, other.
When you are invited to revise and resubmit
It’s unlikely that you will ever have an article accepted without having to make any changes.
11. Respond carefully to every suggestion, even if you disagree. I agree with the first part of this, “respond carefully”. However, the second part seems to suggest that you should make the suggested changes, even if you disagree. The author even says that the “reviewers are always right”. I disagree and will almost always stand my ground on points that I feel don’t need to be changed. I’ll sometimes spend 2-3 times longer arguing for why the change shouldn’t be made, than it would’ve taken to just edit the text. However, I will clarify the writing to ensure that other readers don’t make the same mistake that the reviewer made. You do need to respond to every comment though, ensuring that you’re respectful in your responses. Whatever you think of the actual feedback, someone has taken the time to read and comment on your work. Make sure that you follow the journal instructions for how to edit and resubmit your article.
12. Get input from others as you revise. It’s especially useful to have someone else go over your response to the reviewers. It may also be useful to contact the Editor directly; they have asked you to resubmit so obviously think that your work has merit.
9 (revisited). Get it back out the door quickly. When asked to resubmit, unless the reviewers are suggesting major changes, it might be worthwhile dropping everything else and focusing on making the changes.
There is a little more than a page devoted entirely to a series of tips for effective tables and figures (pg. 5-6).
Table 3 (pg. 8-9) includes examples of different kinds of reviewer comments, with appropriate responses.
Note: I’m the Editor at OpenPhysio, an open-access, peer-reviewed online journal with a focus on physiotherapy education. If you’re doing interesting work in the classroom, even if you have no experience in publishing educational research, we’d like to help you share your stories.